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Do I have to provide patient report for Benefits Agency?

I recently refused to provide a report for the Benefits Agency as I did not have my patient's written consent. When written consent was eventually sent to me it was more than 12 months old. Am I obliged to provide the report?

NHS GPs are obliged to provide certain information to a Medical Officer, relating to patients to whom they have issued, or refused to issue, a certificate.

NHS regulations state that the doctor may rely on the written assurance from any officer of the Department of Social Security that he holds the patient's written consent, unless the doctor has reason to believe otherwise.

For consent to be valid the patient must be fully informed about the purpose of the examination and/or disclosure, the extent of the information and the fact that relevant information cannot be concealed or withheld. Consent may be withdrawn at any point, so in this case it would be wise to check that the consent is still valid.

Any disclosure must be limited to factual and unbiased information that is relevant to the patient's benefits.

The Access to Medical Reports Act 1988 entitles patients to see reports written about them before they are disclosed. The NHS regulations state that, since the DSS gives all claimants access to reports made in connection with state benefits, it is not necessary to check whether the patient wishes to see the report. However, the GMC guidance directs that doctors should always check, unless patients have clearly and specifically stated that they do not wish to do so. LMC advice would support this view.

Christine Dewbury, Wessex LMCs

Neither Pulse nor Wessex LMCs can accept any legal liability in respect of the answers given. Readers should seek independent advice before acting on the information concerned.

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